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A few thoughts on Port, of sorts

Ahead of our upcoming Portuguese wine tasting, with Niepoort wine maker Nick Delafore, we thought we’d take you on a little history of Port, one of wine’s most interesting stories, steeped in conflict and gout.

Port’s origins are of course deeply rooted in Portugal,though English intervention is undeniable in Port’s development. To cut a long story short, the English fell out of love with French wine during the 17th Century because, well, we were at war with France. In order to satiate our love of wine, we had to find a new source, and Porto was just a short hop down the coast from Bordeaux, which was our usual haunt for sourcing booze. Just in case these new Portuguese beauties spoiled on the journey, we started adding brandy to the wine, and quickly discovered that if we did it at the right point in the fermentation, it stopped any more sugar being consumed and left us with a delicious, sweet wine that would survive the high seas. Thus, Port was born.

Today, Port is usually made from 3 main Portuguese varieties: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz (otherwise known as Tempranillo). White Port, made in the same way but with white grape varieties, is also excellent and highly underrated as an aperitif, with cheese or with tonic. Port now comes in a baffling array of labels, so here’s a little run down of the differences.

RUBY

Ruby ports are approachable, fruity styles that have usually undergone shorter maturation periods, making them the cheapest to buy, but are not to be sniffed at. They are usually a deep red and pair well with desserts, milk chocolate or cheese.

TAWNY

Tawnies differ from Rubies in that they undergo longer oak ageing, often in traditional pipes. This tends to give them characteristics of nuts, figs, caramel, and sometimes earthier qualities. Tawny Ports can be given age statements, usually of 10, 20 or 30 years, which indicate a style or average age, rather than an actual age. These will tend to pair well with cheeses, nut-based desserts, dark chocolate and dried fruits.

CRUSTED

Crusted ports are unfiltered which allows them to develop in bottle, making them a more affordable alternative to a vintage, but will need decanting.

VINTAGE

Vintage Ports are made from the grapes of one harvest, usually only in the best years. They tend to spend 2 years in oak before going into bottle without filtration, so as to develop further in the bottle, often up to 20 years (though they can often go much further). This usually makes them the most expensive, but with the most potential for ageing.

LATE BOTTLED VINTAGE

LBVs differ from Vintage Ports in that they will spend a few years ageing in barrels, before then being bottled and released, rather than doing most of its ageing in the bottle.

NIEPOORT

Founded in 1842, the small Port house of Niepoort is now run by 5th generation brother and sister Dirk and Verena Niepoort. Its easy to forget that it was only a few years ago that Niepoort was only sought out by a small band of faithful followers, as stock of remarkable, artisan wines built up in the cramped old Niepoort lodge in Rua Serpa Pinto in Vila Nova de Gaia. These days, with a formidable international reputation which spans all styles from aged tawny to vintage, and all points in between, demand threatens to outstrip supply. Ports are all made at the old Museu de Lagares in Vale de Mendiz, which has the only circular granite Lagares in the Douro. Wine Niepoort is an independent family business founded in 1842 when Franciscus Marius van der Niepoort came over to the Douro from Holland to become a Port merchant. Through five generations, the business passed successfully from one Niepoort to the next with generations working side by side.

Niepoort's mission has always been to be a "niche player", to produce distinctive Ports and Douro wines, combining centuries-old tradition with innovation. This continues today with new vineyard projects to produce dry, natural wines in the Douro - Bairrada - Dão triangle. The importance attached to understanding soils, climates and grape varieties has led the current head of the business Dirk Niepoort down the path of Biodynamics, a practise that respects the "moods" of Nature, to find a balance between biodiversity and minimum intervention. After 150 years of doing things just a little differently, Niepoort are now highly respected for their delicious Ports and an increasing array of natural table wines. Browse their range here.

If you want to find out more about Portuguese wine, why not join us for our tasting on the 16th November at 7pm with winemaker Nick Delafore. Tickets are £25 a head, and includes a fantastic selection of wines and ports, as well as cheeses from the Courtyard Dairy. Give us a call or email us to book.